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Coach to Coach: Developing a Motivational Profile with 4 Essential Questions

by: Jared Wood
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When motivating student athletes, guesswork does not work. It is essential to have a framework for your efforts, and a little solid knowledge goes a long way toward getting it right.

A simple, useful research-based formula for building motivation is this:

Motivation = Expectations x Values

Motivation is a combination of what one expects to happen multiplied by what he values or wants. This formula can be assessed effectively with four questions. A player’s answers to the questions will help you do two things motivationally:

1.  Understand player motivation so that you can craft effective player improvement plans.

2.  Work through a process that will help you form a better relationship with each player. Better relationships will increase the value you and your players place on football. This will lead to a more cohesive team with greater team chemistry.


An accordion file folder or a binder work great for making your plans accessible. You can also use digital storage, such as creating a file with all emailed responses in it.


The entire team can answer the questions at the same time. Hand out these questions on a sheet of paper with plenty of space for a good paragraph answer for each question. Give players plenty of time to answer each question thoroughly. Alternatively, send the questions via email and give a deadline for responses. Make copies so that each player can keep his own answers. Do not share answers among players. The information is strictly confidential.

The Questions

The questions are a little vague, and that is by design. You can develop more depth in follow-up interviews.

1.  Why do you play football?
2.  What do you hope to get out of football?
3.  What are your goals for football?
4.  Describe the ideal football player for your position. What does he think, feel, and do? 

Interpretation and Follow-Up

Interpretation and follow-up can be conducted by the head coach or assigned to coordinators or position coaches. I recommend having a meeting in which all coaches talk about the motivational profiles for all student-athletes. In the meeting, create a list of each player’s essential expectations and values.

Individual player follow-up is a must. Keep in mind it is essential to be non-judgmental about a player’s answers. Do not judge or scold a player for what he wrote, did not write, or what you think he should have written. If a player is not motivated the way you want him to be, that is fine. After all, the point of the exercise is to gather information to help improve each player’s motivation as well as your own.

1. Why do you play football?

Answers to question 1 reveal the reasons a player participates in football. The reasons are essential for understanding the intrinsic motivation behind his participation. Even in the most difficult activities, try to remind players of their reasons for playing as often as possible. A player will only be at his best when he understands and accepts his reasons for playing.

If a player is very light on reasons for playing, or if his motivation seems to be all external (such as playing only because others expect it of him), watch him and see if you can catch him enjoying certain activities. If you can find some activities he enjoys, point out that he has multiple reasons for playing. Ask him if he agrees. Add to his motivational profile if you can.

2. What do you hope to get out of football?

Question 2 tends to reveal extrinsic motivators. It is about what a player wants to get or learn from playing football, and the question is vague on purpose. The benefit of knowing this is that you can craft certain individualized messages, lessons, or experiences to individual player expectations and values about what football can teach him.

3. What are your goals for football?

Question 3 reveals a player’s expectations. A player’s goals let you know what he expects to accomplish. With his goals clearly stated, you can now help him craft a plan to meet them. Also, when anyone declares a goal it is harder to slack effort toward that goal. As a coach, knowledge of goals will help you keep players accountable. Furthermore, by adopting a player’s goals as your own, you create an alliance that will bond you together in a relationship, which will improve the value he places on football.

With question 3, you can help players in follow-up by creating clear goals with action plans. Also, note whether players tended to write down team or individual goals. Do not judge an individual player if he didn’t write down team goals. The question leads players to individual goals, and that’s fine. Asking the question this way creates a chance to assess team chemistry and whether you have made team goals clear and gained commitment to them. Thus, question 3 is truly a check on your coaching and communication, not player selfishness. Even though the question is leading, if you’ve done a good job fostering team chemistry, many players will answer with team goals among their own personal goals.
4. Describe the ideal football player for your position. What does he think, feel, and do?

Question 4 is effective for learning both values and expectations. The more clearly a player can identify what the ideal player thinks, feels, and does, the more clearly you can point out goals and action steps for how to get him there. If his description is vague, you can help make it clearer. Also, if a player’s answers are vague, what can he possibly be working toward? A vague understanding of the ideal football player will likely lead to haphazard, ineffective actions on the field, in the locker room and weight room, and maybe even in the classroom.

A great follow-up exercise is to have the player rate himself on each trait of the ideal player. A rating of 0-100 (0 being no match, 100 being a perfect match) is a great way to do this. You can then help the player create an action plan for how to get closer to 100 on each trait.

By asking and interpreting these four questions, you will learn more about each player, have fuel for improving motivation and developing action plans, see more opportunities for coaching correctly, assess team commitment to shared goals, and strengthen your relationship with each player. Each player will benefit from your improved coaching, the stronger relationship between the two of you, and knowledge of his own motivation. Together, you will build a more motivated, cohesive team. s

About the Author: Dr. Jared Wood has been an educator for the past 19 years and a coach and sport psychology consultant for the past 14 years. He recently completed and published a sport psychology training manual for players and coaches called “It’s Only Cold On One Sideline”. Dr. Wood can be contacted at or at his website,


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